To shed the negative image that often comes with wearing a badge, HISD Police Chief Pedro Lopez Jr. is following the lead of police chiefs nationwide to bring relational policing into HISD classrooms and neighborhoods.
That idea, along with a recent significant boost in department funding, paved the way for the district’s new police community outreach team CORE (Community Outreach Responsive Engagement).
“We are determined to go out into the communities, build back those relationships and bridge that gap that has increasingly widened with what has been happening throughout the country,” said HISD Police Officer Steven Bennett, who is one of the six officers serving on the CORE team. “We just want to get out there and do everything we can to repair this relationship between the community and law enforcement.”
The CORE team has already become an essential part of the HISD Police Department, meeting with nearly 2,000 HISD students districtwide in the first two weeks of the program. For the last two years one person – Officer Vanessa Losey – has served as the lone community outreach officer for the entire district.
According to Officer Bennett, Losey, who is regarded as the “godmother” of the CORE team, inspired administration and command staff to have more like her in the field. For Losey, her experience serving the district was just as inspiring.
“It made me truly understand what a public servant is, and I hope every officer gets to understand the title of public servant,” she said. “I am more than just a police officer; I am a guardian of the community and it is my duty to build that trust with the students and have those tough conversations.”
The first goal of the CORE team will be to break down those barriers, let students learn to trust them and see beyond the badge. According to Losey, once the students understand that there are good officers out there, the real work can begin.
“The CORE officers are learning that they are going to be very resourceful. If there is a need in the community, then our families, teachers and principals can come to us and we will match them with the right service,” she said. “Because we worked to break down those barriers, the community now has the trust to come to us and express the need for assistance. It is a domino effect.”
Moving forward, they will provide an array of special events, programs, and presentations to students, parents and the community, including High Five Fridays, where CORE officers greet elementary school parents and students at Friday morning drop off with music and dancing.
The weekend kickoff is a proactive way, according to Highland Heights Principal John Flowers, to teach young students to view police officers in a positive light.
“Our students are very interested in getting to know the police officers and interacting at the elementary level with help with some of the issues faced in middle and high school,” he said. “If we have more police officers like the CORE team attempt to get to know our students policing will be different, interactions will be different, as they get older. It is mutually beneficial for both parties.”